Homeostatic Façade System. Image courtesy of Fast Company.
As Buro Happold manager Matthew Herman stated in his talk at the ARCHITECT magazine 2010 R+D Symposium, adaptive façade technologies are currently precipitating the transformation of buildings from material entities toward energy systems. This change in perspective is appropriate, since the energy used to heat, cool, and light buildings makes up approximately 30 percent of global energy consumption. Despite their potential return on investment, however, automated blinds, louvers, and other shading devices still require energy for their operation.
New York architecture firm Decker Yeadon has proposed a low-energy alternative to automated mechanical systems. Dubbed the "Homeostatic Façade," the architects' prototype system takes advantage of the inherent physical properties of dielectric elastomers (DEs), materials that can undergo plastic deformations with an electric charge and which "reset" themselves to their original shape once the charge is removed.
DY's façade system acts like a flexing muscle in which a mazelike assembly of curvilinear DE surfaces elongate and contract, adjusting the degree of solar shading as needed. Although the current prototype appears too delicate to use on the exterior side of glazing (which is the ideal location to reduce solar heat gain), the ingenious proposal merits further attention concerning thermally adaptive building strategies.